Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 14, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Screen The Other Side of the Wind – Review

The Other Side of the Wind – Review

5 mins read
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“Now our revels are ended”, quotes a character towards the conclusion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of The Wind. The reference echoes magician Prospero finally giving up his magic in The Tempest, accepting his retirement. Much like Prospero, Welles himself can be seen as a magician of sorts, famed for his pioneering of camera trickery and manipulation of audience expectation. He even fashioned himself as such in the seminal F For Fake, blurring the lines between filmmaker and illusionist. Where Welles differs dramatically from Prospero however, is in the fact he never gave up his magic. The Other of The Wind is evidence of this, a film absolutely furious in its invention and frenetic pace.

Documentary-like in its presentation, it is an account of the last day of a fictional aging director, Jake Hannaford (John Huston). On his seventieth birthday, he throws a party filled with press, cameramen and other directors, inviting them to record the events of the evening, to publicise the new film he is making, footage of which he is screening at the party. It is assembled as a patchwork of these recordings, kaleidoscopically switching between grainy, black and white and pristine colour film stocks, conveying cinematically the multiple perspectives a media personality is seen from. In addition, long fragments of Hannaford’s troubled film production (a bizarre, but beautifully shot pastiche of the more pretentious areas of European cinema) are intercut with the action, giving us a glimpse of a man only through the many cameras of those who surround him, and his art itself.

“This is Welles challenging every notion of what a film actually is, with editing advancements of the era allowing for new intricacy”

Cuts of unfinished films being released in some form or another are often mild curiosities, assemblies of what could have been, relegated to an extra feature or a part of a documentary. The Other Side of The Wind Side is different. A whopping ninety six hours of material survive of it, shot by Welles over five years, and with plenty of accompanying paperwork to guide any editor. Through the years, various rights disputes have prevented people from doing much with the material. Netflix’s edit of the footage is most definitely a full-blooded feature length film – though at first glance, its fragmented nature may fool you to think otherwise. It’s a testament to just how different and engaging a piece of work this is, that its fractured presentation still feels shocking today. Like F For Fake, this is Welles challenging every notion of what a film actually is, with editing advancements of the era allowing for new intricacy; he satirises his acclaimed European counterparts, proving he can do what they do, and creates a new way that narratives can be presented – one filled with all the ambiguities, trickeries and deceptions that he so loved. Sometimes we flit between multiple cameras, and it makes us question the linearity of what we’re seeing: sometimes we aren’t sure which character is talking to which, and more than anything, we’re constantly questioning whether what we saw and heard is the truth.

In fact, it seems like a natural progression from Kane, updated for a new era in cinema. In that film, a journalist talks to the friends and relatives of the recently deceased title character. In Wind we are invited to be the journalist investigating the deceased – we’re offered up a series of different lenses to look at Hannaford and the people who surround him through, but no singular definitive document. By the end of the picture, there are no solid answers about the key to Hannaford and his character, no Rosebud reveal. We are left a series of excerpts of the man at his most vulnerable, garnering scraps about his sadistic relationship with his leading men and their wives, his clear insecurity about his own age, and a clear discomfort with his own sexuality. We see him try to mediate between his public image and private persona, as we try to discern which is which; as the film goes on, and the cutting continues to intensify, we realise the efforts are futile – Hannaford and his audience are just as uncertain as we are.

“In Wind we are invited to be the journalist investigating the deceased – we’re offered up a series of different lenses to look at Hannaford and the people who surround him through, but no singular definitive document”

It does have to be said, some of the extended intercuts from Hannaford’s pretentious film get a little tedious. That’s their point, of course, but it feels like a point that gets laboured after a while. There are moments that are incredibly telling about Hannaford’s character, especially the sterile and almost cruel sex scenes that permeate it; that’s where it works well. Parts occur though, where the aimless nonsense of the symbolism stops being amusing and pleasing to look at, turning instead into a chore. Functioning as breathers to the non-stop action of the party, these sequences also inadvertently slow down the pace at times; it becomes less an exercise in exposing indulgence as an exercise in indulgence itself.

Whether this is a decision that Welles would have changed if he had got the chance to edit the film to completion, is something we will never know, no matter how much a team adheres to his notes. But the fact we’re questioning the authorship of the film, and how much of the edit can be accredited to Welles’ vision (especially considering how much of the film was improvised), is ironically fitting. Looking at Welles’ previous film, F For Fake, there is an obsession on how to define authorship and authenticity. It adds to the film’s exploration of subjectivity and differing perspectives that we’re unsure of both the veracity of what we’re hearing in the film, and the way we think of the film’s authorship. It’s imperfect, rough around the edges and at places feels incomplete or unguided – and that’s perversely part of the fun of it.

When I think back to this review’s opening Prospero analogy, I’d acknowledge that there is a kind of magic forsaken come the end of Wind, if not Welles’ own. This film feels like him letting go of the magic of the old cinema, the cinema that he had helped to construct all those years ago. It’s the summoning of a new magic, dangerous and wilder – a magic people were reluctant to fund. I’ve always maintained that F For Fake should have started a rethinking of the way we look at cinema, and how it can do more than just tell stories. Though Fake never did have that effect, it’s fun, if a little indulgent to speculate – could The Other Side of the Wind have been the film that caused that revolution? Either way, it will certainly cause anyone who watches it to at least consider the thought. And over forty years after being made, that’s quite an achievement.

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